Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Yesterday David Brooks pointed out how profoundly secular the Democratic Party is as well as the campaign of its candidate, John Kerry. In religious America, this is bad news for the left.
A recent Time magazine survey revealed that only 7 percent of Americans feel that Kerry is a man of strong religious faith. That's a catastrophic number. That number should be the first thing Kerry strategists think about when they wake up in the morning and it should be the last thing on their lips when they go to sleep at night. They should be doing everything they can to change that perception, because unless more people get a sense of Kerry's faith, they will feel no bond with him and they will be loath to trust him with their vote.

Yet his campaign does nothing. Kerry talks about jobs one week and the minimum wage the next, going about his wonky way, each day as secular as the last.

It's mind-boggling. Can't the Democratic strategists read the data? Religious involvement is a much, much more powerful predictor of how someone will vote than income, education, gender or any other social and demographic category save race.

Can't the Democratic strategists feel it in their bones how important this is? After all, when you go out among the Democratic rank and file, you find millions of Democrats who are just as religious as Republicans. It's mostly in the land of Democratic elites that you are likely to find yourself among religious illiterates.
As a Christian sojourning in the land of liberal irreligious elites -- aka the American academy -- I can testify that Brooks is for once correct in his analysis. They in fact cannot feel it in their bones; liberal elites quite frankly would rather lose an election than give ground on their own secular creed. The secular left's intolerant position on abortion is the best example of an issue on which Democrats are far more dogmatic than Republicans.

Secular liberal Democrats who don't instinctively hate faith and religion -- Kevin Drum comes immediately to mind -- have been trumpeting the so-called "religious left" as the Democrats answer to Pat Robertson and James Dobson. As someone whose politics resembles that of old-fasioned blue collar Catholics, I've always been skeptical of the credentials as well as the power of such a group. So with the help of I did a quick tally of the strength of the religious left and came away duly unimpressed.

Here is my list of the members of the religious left in the United States, together with a rough percentage figure for how many in the denomination can be classified as such, followed by the number of members of the religious left contributed by each denomination.

Reform Judaism -- 100% -- 1.5 million
United Church of Christ -- 100% -- 1.38 million
Unitarian Universalist Association -- 100% -- 0.22 million
Quakers/Friends -- 100% -- 0.1 million
Presbyterian Church USA -- 67% -- 2.4 million
Episcopal Church -- 67% -- 1.6 million
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America -- 50% -- 2.52 million
United Methodist Church -- 33% -- 2.75 million

TOTAL -- 12.47 million

This is an amazingly weak number when you consider there are over 16 million Southern Baptists in the United States. Note also that the core of the "religious left" -- the first four denominations listed -- totals a mere 3.2 million.

In a country as religious as America, you'd better pin your hopes on a lot more than the "religious left" if you want to get elected.


At 2:04 PM, Blogger Chibi said...

While I can't really disagree with the political analysis, I have to take issue with one thing here.

The secular left's intolerant position on abortion is the best example of an issue on which Democrats are far more dogmatic than Republicans.First of all, if you're going to compare the secular left with the Republicans, you're taking a small segment of the Democrats and you are bumping them up against the entire spectrum of the GOP. Not exactly fair. So if you're trying to make the argument that the Secular Left is far more dogmatic than the Religious Right, you're going to have to back that argument up a bit. Show me examples of pro-choice terrorism like we've seen from the pro-life side (bombings, murders) and I'd be more accepting of the position that the Secular Left needs to be more open-minded like their opponents in their stance.

I'm not sure what you're suggesting here, though. It's not like Kerry is suddenly going to find God and be convincing about it.

At 3:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You fail to count left-leaning Catholics (and even some Southern Baptists) who are sometimes conservative on social issues are often more progressive on economic issues than many mainstream Protestants. When immigrants are being attacked or fights happen on the minimum wage, Catholic leaders are often in the front lines of the fight.

So don't track the "religious right" or "religious left" purely by denomination. There are lots of divisions internally and across different issues.

Nathan Newman

At 2:24 AM, Blogger billyblazer said...

It seems to me that the only viable position that a government can take is a secular one, otherwise that government will be disenfranchising rather large segments of its population. I'm not sure that Kerry isn't as religious as the next guy (assuming that the "next guy" isn't a Bush evangelical) but that he refuses couch his political rhetoric in religious terms is the proper and correct response.

It is entirely possible for a State to define and take ethical positions without reference to any religious affiliation whatsoever. All the State must do is to allow freedom of religious expression in the constituency, as a principle of governance, rather than to assume a religious posture of its own.

The fact that Kerry is a practicing Catholic and yet supports abortion rights is an example of this kind of division: while he may be personally opposed to abortion, the position that life is sacred and begins at conception is essentially a religious (theological) position and not one that falls in the proper realm of the State.

To choose any other stance leads one down a dangerous path, in my opinion, and must necessarily ask the question: which is the correct religion? Would Kerry be more acceptable if he were Hindu? A Moonie? I rather doubt it. If not that, then what? A good Muslim? Should the State support law based on sharia? Mosaic law? Or are we only limited to Christians? If so, what kind? Moderate mainstream or evangelical? Progressive protestantism or liberation theology?

As a practicing Christian myself, I fear any government that seeks justification based on theological principles of any kind.

At 11:03 AM, Blogger paperwight said...


One poster has already noted the large number of Catholics who aren't on the right -- I tend to agree with that, as I know a lot of American Catholics who are with the Pope on above-the-neck issues, but go their own way on below-the-waist issues, and that combination places them squarely on the left.

You're also missing a lot of the Protestant denominations with strong bases in the Northern Midwest and the West, like Lutherans, Presbyterians, Wesleyans, non-evangelical Methodists, and so forth.

Last, you can't really limit the religious left in Judaism to just Reform congregations. Conservative Jewish congregations can also have a lot of people on the religious left.


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